What is Karma?

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Karma is essentially a very complex cycle of action that is moving forward towards its completion in slow motion. There is a sense of inevitability associated with it. If that cycle is hindered then all kind of repercussions result from it. Again those repercussions force the movement of that cycle toward its completion.

For example, a person borrows some money. To complete that cycle the debt needs to be discharged. If it is not discharged as it was agreed upon then various repercussions come about. This cycle continues to influence all those associated with it, one way or another, until that debt is discharged.

Parents raise their children with care. Children owe their parents for that care. When parents are old and vulnerable they need care. Children have to pay that debt to their parents to complete the cycle. If that doesn’t happen, and such incomplete cycles start to build up, then the social fabric starts to break down.

When a person with a ‘problem-body’ dies, and a person is born with ‘good-body’ but with memories of that ‘problem-body’ do we have the continuation of the same soul whose wishes are now fulfilled because of some good karma? The answer is not so simple. The only fact here is that a memory of another life is there. Whether it is the same soul can only be speculated.

The actual karmic cycle is that of the combinations of chromosomes that bring about a certain person. If you look objectively, there are physical atoms and molecules that go into the construction of the new body. The combinations of those atoms and molecules carry a programming that results in certain memories and considerations, which go into the construction of the new soul. There are infinite number of permutations and combinations in which all these atoms and molecules combine to produce a person.

So, a person is what he is. His memories are what they are. Memories are part of the current configuration of body and soul. One has to make the best out of the cards he is dealt with in this life, rather than trying to figure out why he is the way he is. Is this the result of some karma? Yes. But that karma is beyond that one person’s actions. It is karma at a much larger, universal scale.

So, what can a person do about it? Can he straighten out the universal karma? It is like asking, “Can a cell straighten out the whole organism?”

I think the answer is yes. I think that was what Buddha was trying to do. It is like a cell straightening out itself and the other cells around it, and this action then spreading out like a chain reaction reaching the scale of the whole organism.

For Buddha this “straightening out” was “mindfulness.” Mindfulness helps round up cycles toward completion. As smaller cycles get completed, the bigger cycles, of which they were a part, get completed, and then still bigger cycles get completed and so on. The universal karma is a very complex cycle.

I hope this makes sense.

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Comments

  • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 8:20 AM

    It is good to attempt to address this subject. You are correct when you bring up the complexity involved. Karma’s sense of inevitability is because of the enormous complexity of the subject of existence.

  • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    It is tempting to think that there is a way to “straighten out” karmic effects and maybe this is so that something can be done. However, causing effects and predicting the results of those effects, even on scales of similar magnitude is very complicated and tricky indeed. Of course one can and should balance their checkbook and be responsible for the promises they make. But the notion that one could straighten out a whole system of viewpoints becomes inordinately complex after just a few passes. I think that mindfulness is well intentioned and proceeds in a fruitful direction. However, I also think that predicting the outcomes of “butterfly effects” is an egotistically oriented ambition.

    • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 3:39 PM

      The following can be said:

      (1) Inevitability of fate is a function of the difficulty in unentangling a situation.

      (2) The fate can be changed by unentangling a situation.

      (3) A practical approach to unentangling a complex situation is mindfulness.

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      • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 5:24 PM

        There is nothing wrong with what you’ve written here. We are making slightly different points. You are making the point that a current and extant situation can be disentangled or straightened out. I am also agreeing with the concept that what we do reverberates into the future.

        What I am seeing however is that predicting and controlling a future outcome is too complicated. Like “pushing a rope” the iterations which occur and which layer the future out in front of us would only be predictable from the point of view of omniscience of the “whole mind” of the “set of all sets.” This idea I’m trying to communicate aligns with Heisenberg’s Incompleteness. Therefore, though one organic cell might be conjectured to live and to grow and to multiply and to foster or engender a future healthful population, I do not believe that one cell can change the present, the past, but only the future and that future not in a predictable way, and finally only “steered” in a predictable way so long as the mindful individual decides to exert their continual attention to steer the future iteration, and even then one might not achieve the result that one desired. This is the bane of raising children, growing crops, and influencing governments to name three.

        • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 6:38 PM

          You are right. When one is being mindful there is no attention on “predicting and controlling a future outcome.” Mindfulness, to me, is all about completing cycles of actions because after that is accomplished one is totally free.

          It is not any one person, but it is the very knowledge of mindfulness that will bring back the golden age.

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      • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 5:25 PM

        Conversely, the progeny of a “tainted” organism might yet iterate into a valuable organism. Our organic roots run deep with the future being yet deeper. For reasons too complicated to predict, the earlier “taint” may or may not show up again in the future DNA of the organism. This is the realm of cellular automata and I do not see it yielding except to our current and continuing will but once that will; that mindfulness is abandoned, the iteration shoots off into a vector which may or may not fall within a familiar set. This is the result of fractal iteration.

        • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 6:42 PM

          I do not understand what you mean when you say, “once that will; that mindfulness is abandoned…” What is there in mindfulness to abandon? Does one stop looking and start to assume again?

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        • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 7:16 PM

          Ah, I wrote that poorly. First comes mindfulness, then it seems that will is exerted to effect the change. For instance, housekeeping. One becomes aware of the dirt, one sweeps out the dirt, but then one (me) sits in the recliner and enjoys the result but without constant attention the dirt creeps back in.

          When (if) the mindfulness ceases, when (if) the will, the pressure ceases, the iterations continue but without the housekeeping, pretty soon the goats are in the living room and the chickens are in the bread-pan picking out dough!

        • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 7:20 PM

          Yes, while one still has attachments, one is prone to abandon mindfulness and identify too closely with their attachments. Mindfulness seems to be a skill which becomes more natural and easy to accomplish when one practices.

        • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 7:34 PM

          What seems to appear as will is actually the interaction of physical and mental forces and energies. The thought simply appears and executes itself. There is no effort when there are no inconsistencies. Everything flows smoothly. There is as much pleasure in sweeping the dirt as it is listening to Mozart’s piano concerto no. 21 in C major.

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        • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 7:55 PM

          Yes exactly, and yet this seems to need to be learned, practiced, and the “pleasurable” result experienced. When the inertia of one’s fat body glues them (me) to the couch or the relative ease of watching a movie seems preferable to the exertion of going for a walk and looking at things, I seem to continue to have attachments and assumptions that are inconsistent. What is pleasure might possibly be the release experienced from the lessening of tension brought about by inconsistencies or maybe the mental atoms and photons and mental masses which were out of but seeking equilibrium… You got me thinking in a very satisfactory direction with these analogies of mental space-time to physical space-time.

          In my youth I read some Tolstoy and he wrote something about his own Christianity, something like, “Now I love truth above all else in the world. And up to now truth has coincided for me with Christianity as I understand it. And I profess that Christianity, and in the the degree to which I do profess it, I live happily and approach death joyfully.”

          When I remember those serene and happy words, I don’t think about the ideology underpinning Christianity as much as I think about the spirit of the man who wrote them and I smile at that because those words seem to be the words of a man who found his stride, his rhythm, his balance, his consistency in life, whatever we call it, a kindred spirit. I also “live happily and approach death joyfully” though not through the ideology of Christianity but through the ideology we call mindfulness, and maybe a few others sprinkled in. I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff but to embrace the bigger picture of life and to realize my connection with it. The next thing after “I” die does not cause me any anxiety.

        • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 8:25 PM

          Enjoy this!

          .

  • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    A healthy organism is a precariously balanced phenomenae of processes. It consists conservatively of millions of processes all acting and reacting to attempt to maintain equilibrium like a burning star. In this example, one cancer cell can possibly tip over the entire balance destroying the organism or cell. Just like iron forming in the center of a star sounds the death-knell of that star by tipping over the equilibrium of the forces of fusion countering the forces of gravity. But is there any example of any single cell correcting the operation of an entire population of cells? I am not aware of this. Organized systems organize by bit by bit but can devolve suddenly.

    • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      As I understand, Buddhism brought civilization to three-quarters of the world population in its time.

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      • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 6:15 PM

        And then it devolved into what we see today. I don’t think that’s because there’s something particularly wrong with Buddhism. I think the reason is that “present-time mindfulness” is the principle that could bring about constructive change in an individual or in a group and then that mindfulness must be ongoing for that positive or constructive change to continue, because it must continue since it cannot create a solid ideological structure which need no-minding.

        So did Buddhism teach mindfulness? And did it teach that mindfulness must be ongoing — Forever? It’s a question as I don’t have an educated opinion of Buddhism.

        • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 6:55 PM

          How can there be anything wrong with knowledge except that it gets abandoned in favor of illusion? But knowledge reemerges. I see that happeneing now.

          Yes, Buddhism has always been about mindfulness. Here it is in a nutshell:

          https://vinaire.me/2012/06/30/the-context-of-khtk/

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  • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    Karma for me is man’s effort to give a name to a ponderously large, complicated, inertial-juggernaut of a universe.

  • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 8:41 AM

    I should say that the word karma is an effort to give a name to the ongoing “processes” of a ponderously large and complicated universe.

  • vinaire  On September 23, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    I find Karma to be a more mature concept than the concept of God.

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    • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 7:10 PM

      It depends on our own treatment of these two words, doesn’t it? Depends on our own personal experience of what we consider Karma or of God?

      I have come to believe in a “god-consciousness” and yes, it is just a belief and no I choose to leave the word “god” out of my descriptions to others as that word has too much baggage.

      But I experience life as a beautiful game with the “I” of myself as an actor on Shakespeare’s stage of life. What is the underpinning, the god or constant underlying it all? That is unknowable! haha Seriously, there is an underpinning of processes and god-knows-what-else that has been and continues to be chased by physicists and metaphysicists alike, and with success. We just have to continue to play this great game. Wouldn’t it be great if your optimism were rewarded with great sweeping discoveries that really did help man become mindful with himself and with one another and his environment?

  • Chris Thompson  On September 23, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    If you ask a few people “What is Karma” I think you will find the consensus is “what goes around comes around.” This is a nice thought but it is inaccurate. The more accurate statement would be “what goes around is recursive and self similar.” This is the both the drift we see in the world around us like the movement of continents and the drift in the DNA of species; And it is also something to do with the reason that we cannot learn from history.

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